Liberia's Dancing Christmas Devils Could Give Krampus A Lesson In Niceness
December 25, 2015
Millions of Americans are being scared by Christmas this year — the hit movie Krampus features the holiday devil of Europe, a frightening figure who wears animal skins and horns and roams the streets aiming to punish kids who have been naughty and not nice.
Believe me, I know how they feel. During my earliest years I recall Christmas as a period of sweet fun that was laced also with a high dose of fright. Yes, fright — similar to what many people feel when they watch a horror movie. Why would a child be frightened during Christmas? I hear you asking as you read these words.
Let me explain.
I wasn't afraid of Santa Claus nor any of the reindeer as I never encountered them.
No, the fear factor was reserved for the land of my birth, Liberia, where I spent most Christmas seasons until I was 9 years old. What scared the living daylights out of me were the traditional so-called dancing devils that came out during that time to dance in return for payment or gifts. They were always larger than any human beings I had ever seen. Some were as tall as 10 feet (I jest not) and some as wide as three men. (In retrospect, I think they used stilts.) They were covered in piles and piles of brown raffia straw. I say so-called as these beings have nothing to do with Judeo-Christian devils (which are influenced by European pagan beliefs, the likely source of the Krampus figure).
The Liberian dancing devil, also known as a bush devil in modern Liberian English, springs from the spiritual world of the Poro "bush" or secret societies that have long been a part of the cultural landscape of certain ethnic groups that make up present-day Liberia.
It must be stressed that in the world of the Poro, the devil figure is not evil. Instead it is a manifestation of raw spiritual power that can be used to bring order to society through the inflicting of punishments that are believed to be in the interest of the community. The devils used to dance at traditional festivals. As American settlers came to Liberia and brought their festivals, including Christmas, the devils became part of the holiday.
Here the Christmas exchange was indeed turned upside down. Instead of bringing gifts for children, these "visitors" from another realm were always there to seek a gift from our family. Many children, myself included, would run for cover or hide behind an adult to seek a safe vantage point from which to play a frightening game of peek-a-boo with a devil. They came in various shapes and sizes.
Their arrival was heralded by drumming and the commotion of the entourage that followed them. And they moved. Wow! How they did move! Fast and always to the beat of the drummers, at times darting toward someone in the gathered crowd. They were indeed awesome in the literal sense of the world.
Source: By Max Bankole Jarrett - Goats and Soda